Working material: Bullfighting

Francis Bacon was fascinated by bullfighting, which he famously regarded as ‘a marvellous aperitif to sex’. The cruel sport features directly in paintings from the late 1960s, such as Portrait of Isabel Rawsthorne Standing in a Street in Soho, 1967 and Study for Bullfight No. I, 1969.

Bacon had ample opportunity to visit the corrida on his extensive travels to the South of France and Spain and his vast collection of books and postcards on that topic echo his strong interest. The hand-coloured postcard of a bullfighter attacking the animal head-on was found in his studio at Reece Mews, London. The banner on the stands saying ‘Union Taurine Nîmoise’ suggests that the picture was taken in the historical Arena of Nîmes, which is still used as a bullring today. It is easily conceivable that Bacon bought it there himself.

This working material decisively informed Bacon’s imagery but, surprisingly, the painted subject is not always related to that of its source. It was recently discovered that a photograph of a matador dressing up for the arena from Robert Daley’s book ‘The Swords of Spain’ formed the basis of Bacon’s Study for Portrait of Gilbert de Botton, 1986.

Katharina Günther
Art Historian

Colour tinted postcard of a matador and bull, 10.1 x 15 cm. © The Estate of Francis Bacon. Collection: Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane (RM98BC5)
Study for Bullfight No. 1 (1969)
Study for Portrait of Gilbert de Botton (1986)